As the Prime Minister this week upped the ante on problem families, a project in Aberdeen has shown that intensive work with pre-school children and their parents and carers leads to a better start in P1 reading.
Children in disadvantaged communities whose families worked with the family learning team started P1 with a significantly higher average reading score than their peer group and maintained their advantage by the end of P1. It is a similar story in maths.
Assessments are carried out through the value-added measure of Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) programme run through Durham University. The city has used PIPS testing since 1997-98 and can now show that teachers, too, are making substantial differences to basic literacy and numeracy under the early intervention programme.
Efforts to lift achievement through the family approach began with staff from the community learning and development department working with parents and carers of children aged 3-6 in eight primaries to encourage them to become more involved in formal learning. They helped them become more aware of learning possibilities and value their own input. At the same time, the team helped the adults to improve their literacy and numeracy skills.
The city is now planning to make family learning a priority and hopes to extend the programme to more primaries.
Early intervention has proved to be a broad success, but in reading the city reports only a slight narrowing of the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children overall. In maths, that gap still exists.
Clothing grants are used as a measure of deprivation, and latest results show that children with such grants made "significantly slower progress in mathematics during Primary 1 in 2004-05".
Meanwhile, results from the standardised PIPS testing show clear and significant improvements in reading over the past five years across city primaries. "The amount of value-added by schools has increased significantly," the council says.
Reading and maths attainment at the end of P1 is higher than ever and has progressed steadily since 1999-2000. As ever, how well pupils do at the end of P1 depends on their attainment at the start.
One of the key intervention strategies has been to narrow the gap between boys and girls, and in 2004-05 - for the first time - there was no gap in reading attainment in P1. For the previous four years, the gap had increased.